On August 1th, the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. There was a C3-class solar flare, a solar tsunami, multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more. When the cloud hits, which could be anytime now, it could spark aurorae in the skies around the poles and pose a threat to satellites.
“This eruption is directed right at us.”
The earth could be hit by a wave of violent space weather as early as Tuesday after a massive explosion on the sun, scientists have warned. The solar fireworks at the weekend were recorded by several satellites, including NASA’s new Solar Dynamics Observatory which watched its shock wave rippling outwards.
Astronomers from all over the world witnessed the huge flare above a giant sunspot the size of the Earth, which they linked to an even larger eruption across the surface of Sun.
The explosion, called a coronal mass ejection, was aimed directly towards Earth, which then sent a “solar tsunami” racing 93 million miles across space.
Experts says the wave of supercharged gas will likely reach the Earth on Tuesday, when it will buffet the natural magnetic shield protecting Earth.
It is likely to spark spectacular displays of the aurora or northern and southern lights.
“It’s the first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time.”
Scientists have warned that a really big solar eruption could destroy satellites and wreck power and communications grids around the globe if it happened today.
NASA recently warned that Britain could face widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals for long periods of time, after the earth is hit by a once-in-a-generation “space storm”.
The Daily Telegraph disclosed in June that senior space agency scientists believed the Earth will be hit with unprecedented levels of magnetic energy from solar flares after the Sun wakes “from a deep slumber” sometime around 2013.
It remains unclear, however, how much damage this latest eruption will cause the world’s communication tools.
Here’s Sunday’s explotion, video by New Scientist:
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On August 1st, the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. There was a C3-class solar flare, a solar tsunami, multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more.
(video from spaceweather.com)
Dr Lucie Green, of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Surrey, followed the flare-ups using Japan’s orbiting Hinode telescope.
“What wonderful fireworks the Sun has been producing,” the UK solar expert says.
“This was a very rare event – not one, but two almost simultaneous eruptions from different locations on the sun were launched toward the Earth.”
“These eruptions occur when immense magnetic structures in the solar atmosphere lose their stability and can no longer be held down by the Sun’s huge gravitational pull. Just like a coiled spring suddenly being released, they erupt into space.”
She adds: “It looks like the first eruption was so large that it changed the magnetic fields throughout half the Sun’s visible atmosphere and provided the right conditions for the second eruption. Both eruptions could be Earth-directed but may be traveling at different speeds.”
“This means we have a very good chance of seeing major and prolonged effects, such as the northern lights at low latitudes.”
Despite being separated by hundreds of thousands of kilometers, the two events may be linked. Images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory hint at a shock wave traveling from the flare into the filament. “These are two distinct phenomena but they are obviously related,” says Len Culhane, a solar physicist at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London.
Filaments are gigantic tubes of magnetism that fill up with solar gas and hang in the atmosphere of the sun. This particular one spanned 50 times the diameter of our planet before it burst. It then spilled its contents into space, producing a cloud of electrically charged particles known as a coronal mass ejection.
When the cloud hits our planet, as will happen any day now, satellites could be affected.
A gust of solar particles in April may have been responsible for putting Intelsat’s Galaxy 15 permanently out of action.
In the grand scheme of solar things, this is not a big eruption. The sun is currently rousing from an unusually extended period of quiet.
“If the solar activity continues to rise, then in three to four years this will be seen as a comparatively normal event,” says Culhane.
From August 28, 1859 until September 2, 1859 numerous sunspots and solar flares were observed on the sun, according to Wikipedia.
Just before noon on September 1, the British astronomer Richard Carrington observed the largest flare, which caused a massive coronal mass ejection (CME), to travel directly toward Earth, taking 18 hours. This is remarkable because such a journey normally takes three to four days. It moved so quickly because an earlier CME had cleared its way.
Today, NOAA forecasters estimate a 10% chance of major geomagnetic storms and a 45% chance of at least some geomagnetic activity when the clouds arrive on August 3rd and 4th.
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- Nasa scientists braced for ‘solar tsunami’ to hit earth – Telegraph (adelaidegreenporridgecafe.blogspot.com)
- The Sun Unleashes Coronal Mass Ejection At Earth (science.slashdot.org)
- Here comes the sun storm (cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com)
- Video: Sun Puts on a Spectacular Eruption Show (wired.com)
- RAPatton: The sun sends a charged cloud hurtling our way – space – 02 August 2010 – New Scientist (newscientist.com)
- Incoming! The Sun Unleashes A Massive CME at Earth (Video) (disinfo.com)
- Spectacular Northern Lights Show Signals Sun Is Waking Up (space.com)